Lawrence veteran reflects on family’s service

Paul Garrod -
Dan Sell, of Lawrence, who served in Vietnam as an Air Force pilot, will take Saturday’s Honor Flight to Washington, D.C.

    Daniel K. Sell, of Lawrence, will be on the Talons Out Honor Flight that will depart Saturday morning from Kalamazoo/Battle Creek International Airport, headed for Washington, D.C., where the group of  service  veterans will tour the nation’s capitol, and visit monuments.
    LAWRENCE - Early in the summer of 1970, a young Lawrence man had to make a decision about the future path he would take in the military.
    Daniel K. Sell was not in favor of the Vietnam conflict and he knew there were other aspects of the country’s defense that needed young men and women like him to come forward. Sell was ready to do that.
    Sell’s family has a history of military service as his grandfather, Karl Sell, served in the German Army during World War I. The elder Sell was involved in the German invasion of Russia, and was stranded there when the Germans surrendered in the brutal cold of that winter.
    While returning to Germany by foot, Daniel said his grandfather “resolved to come to the United States.”
    Karl Sell arrived in the US from Germany in the mid-1920s and became a US citizen.
    “He was one of the most patriotic Americans that I ever knew,” said Daniel. “He knew how good the US was, having experienced a different life in Germany.”
    Daniel’s father, Eckhard Karl Sell and his mother also arrived in the US in the late 1920s to join “Grandpa Karl.” Soon after their arrival, Eckhard and his mother became US citizens.
    During World War II, following a military path like his father, Eckhard Sell enlisted in the Army Air Corps and became an aircraft commander, flying B-24s.
    Daniel said his father, along with his crew, picked up a new B-24 built by Ford Motor Company at Willow Run, (Air Force Plant 31), a manufacturing complex in Michigan, located between Ypsilanti Township and Belleville. Eckhard and his crew flew the plane across the Atlantic Ocean to northern Italy, where they were based.
    “Every bombing mission my dad flew was over his previous homeland of Germany,” said Daniel. “He had become an American and did what he had to do.”
    The younger Sell then decided to talk to the United States Air Force recruiter in Benton Harbor. “I told him I wanted to enlist and he asked when I wanted to go in. I told him I would like to finish getting my degree from Michigan State University in the fall.”
    Sell said because of the Vietnam conflict, the Air Force was in need of pilots. After a series of tests, Sell said the Air Force enlisted him that summer with a report to duty date in January of 1971. Sell said that it was done that way in order that he could not be drafted by the Army.
    Sell took 21 credit hours of classes at MSU that fall and graduated in December. He said that instead of going to basic training, he went directly into Officer Training School (OTS) at Lackland Air Force Base in Bexar County, Texas, for three months.
    Sell said next came 49 weeks of “very fast and intense” pilot training at Webb AFB in Big Spring, Texas. He graduated from pilot training the spring of 1972 and learned that he would be assigned  to the 906th Air Refueling Squadron at Minot AFB in North Dakota, flying the KC-135 air refueling tanker.
    Sell said their main mission there was to support the B-52 crews of the 23rd Bomb Squadron and the overall Strategic Air Command’s readiness to strike back in response to any threat from the Soviet Union.
    Sell’s squadron was also tasked to escort fighter jets, usually F-4s, across the Pacific headed to Southeast Asia.
    “We referred to these missions as “Fighter Drags,” said Sell. The small fighters could only fly an hour to an hour-and- a-half on their own fuel. They followed behind and to the sides of the tanker, according to Sell, taking their turns hooking up to Sell’s crew to fill up. Sell said traffic controllers often referred to that operation as “mother hen with chicks in tow.”
    Sell’s crew also participated in the “Young Tiger” TDY flying  to U-Ta pao Royal Thai Navy Airfield in Thailand, where they  joined the on-going air refueling effort flying 45 combat air refueling missions in their 60-day stay there. Sell said these missions were refueling in air fighters going to and returning from their targets in Vietnam.
    Sell left the 906th and the Air Force in December of 1974. He returned to Michigan and settled on a farm north of Lawrence, where he helped raise four children, and now gets to enjoy 10 grandchildren.
    Sell said of his Air Force experience, “I sometimes find it hard to believe I experienced all that I did. Through the grace of God I made it past the difficult, challenging and sometimes scary parts. I am grateful now that “His Plan” gave me the opportunity to serve our wonderful United States of America.”

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